Revelation Overview, Part 3: Revelations After Joseph Smith

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In the first two overviews on revelation in the church, I looked at how prophecies were backdated in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s revelations, and then I looked at how Joseph Smith used and created revelation during his life as prophet.

Now in this third overview on revelation, I wanted to look at how the church has handled revelations following Joseph Smith’s death. Up until now the overviews as a whole have been almost exclusively about Joseph Smith’s time founding the church, but as we are in the home stretch of the overviews it is time to focus just a bit on the church after Joseph Smith.

The reason I have not covered too much following Joseph Smith’s life is simple: If Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God then the church today is not the one true church of God. For me I believe that these overviews show beyond any reasonable doubt that Joseph Smith was unquestionably not a prophet of God, so I don’t feel like writing a ton of overviews about today’s leaders is necessary because they are just men running the church as they personally see fit.

This is the premise of Wendy Nelson’s quote that I highlighted in the last overview, which is honestly one of the best explanations of how revelation works in the church that I have ever seen. In case you missed it, here is Russell M. Nelson’s wife Wendy explaining what changed since her husband took over as prophet:


“It is as though he's been unleashed. He's free to finally do what he came to earth to do. … And also, he's free to follow through with things he's been concerned about but could never do. Now that he's president of [the Church], he can do those things.”  (Latter-day Saint Prophet, Wife and Apostle Share Insights of Global Ministry)


This description is so unintentionally honest and I love it because it’s exactly how I would’ve described revelation in the church, but comes directly from the wife of the prophet which gives it a lot more credibility than if it came from me.

In this overview I am going to highlight a few revelations from prophets after Joseph Smith, and what those revelations (and reversals on some of them) tell us about revelation in the church. After that, we will wrap up these overviews on revelation by looking at the concept of discernment in the church along with a final (but shorter) overview to come on personal revelation.


John Taylor’s 1886 Revelation on Polygamy:


I covered this in more detail in the third overview on polygamy, but in 1886 John Taylor received a revelation from God that was recorded in the voice of God. This revelation was a very clear and direct commandment to continue polygamy even against the increasing pressure from the US Government. From Taylor’s revelation:

 

My son John, you have asked me concerning the New and Everlasting Covenant how far it is binding upon my people.
 
Thus saith the Lord: All commandments that I give must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name unless they are revoked by me or by my authority, and how can I revoke an everlasting covenant, for I the Lord am everlasting and my everlasting covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever.
 
Have I not given my word in great plainness on this subject? Yet have not great numbers of my people been negligent in the observance of my law and the keeping of my commandments, and yet have I borne with them these many years; and this because of their weakness—because of the perilous times, and furthermore, it is more pleasing to me that men should use their free agency in regard to these matters. Nevertheless, I the Lord do not change and my word and my covenants and my law do not, and as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph: All those who would enter into my glory must and shall obey my law. And have I not commanded men that if they were Abraham’s seed and would enter into my glory, they must do the works of Abraham. I have not revoked this law, nor will I, for it is everlasting, and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof; even so, Amen. (Archived Revelation)


This revelation is important for a number of reasons. First, it shows that Taylor was able to record a revelation in the voice of God, which is rare for prophets after Joseph Smith. Second, it shows that Taylor was receiving a revelation that confirmed his prior beliefs that polygamy was a commandment from God that was the “new and everlasting covenant,” which follows the pattern that prophets receive revelations that also happen to match their predetermined beliefs and worldview.

But third, and most importantly, this revelation shows that when a new prophet takes over, God often changes His mind. This revelation was recorded on September 27, 1886, but polygamy for time (it is still the doctrine for the eternities) was revoked less than four years later on September 24, 1890.

We will see this happen again as we continue this overview, but it is very difficult to imagine and all-knowing and all-powerful God changing His mind just four years after very clearly telling John Taylor that polygamy was an everlasting covenant that would not be revoked. And while I understand apologists will contend that polygamy is not the new and everlasting covenant being referred to in this revelation, please look at this part of the revelation:


“And have I not commanded men that if they were Abraham’s seed and would enter into my glory, they must do the works of Abraham. I have not revoked this law, nor will I, for it is everlasting.”


If the everlasting part is not polygamy, there would be no need to reference Abraham as that is the justification for polygamy in the church even though it’s historically incorrect. If you look at how polygamy was discussed during this time, there was no separation between polygamy and the “new and everlasting covenant.”  That was retrofitted later in order to justify ending polygamy for ‘time’ while also having D&C 132 as part of the canonized revelations.

Finally, it is often said that polygamy was merely revoked for ‘time’ due to fear of losing the church’s property to the government, leaving Taylor’s revelation intact. Again, that was certainly the reason that polygamy was revoked for ‘time,’ but that also means that God is OK changing policies due to the demands of men, and shows how powerless the God of Mormonism is when it comes to intervening in situations harmful to what we are told is His one true church. As I’ve tried to outline in these overviews, there are a lot of underlying implications that arise when we utilize apologetics that are just as problematic, if not more so, than the initial concern.

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The Lifting of the Priesthood Ban


If you ask members to name any modern revelation, almost immediately the lifting of the priesthood ban against members with African lineage will come up. As I covered in the overview on race and the scriptures of Mormonism, this is frequently hailed as a modern day revelation. I’m going to include some of that overview here as it pertains to the removal of the ban. From the church's essay on Race and the Priesthood:


This “revelation on the priesthood,” as it is commonly known in the Church, was a landmark revelation and a historic event. Those who were present at the time described it in reverent terms. Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, remembered it this way: “There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. … Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing. … Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same.”


The reality is that it was nothing of the sort, and we have a first person account from Apostle Legrand Richards to explain how the ban was actually lifted. From his interview with Wesley Walters:


WALTERS: On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I’ve heard all kinds of stories: I’ve heard that Christ appeared to the Apostles. I’ve heard that Joseph Smith appeared; and then I heard another story that Spencer Kimball had had a concern about this for some time and simply shared it with the apostles, and they decided that this was the right time to move in that direction. Now are any of those stories true, or are they all…

RICHARDS: Well, the last one is pretty true, and I might tell you what provoked it in a way. Down in Brazil, there is so much Negro blood in the population there that it’s hard to get leaders that don’t have Negro blood in them. We just built a temple down there. It’s going to be dedicated in October. All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising the money to build that temple. And then, if we don’t change, then they can’t even use it. So Brother Kimball worried about it, and he prayed a lot about it.

He asked each one of us of the Twelve if we would pray – and we did – that the Lord would give him the inspiration to know what the will of the Lord was. And then he invited each one of us in his office – individually, because you know when you are in a group, you can’t always express everything that’s in your heart. You’re part of the group, you see – so he interviewed each one of us, personally, to see how we felt about it, and he asked us to pray about it. And then he asked each one of us to hand in all the references we had, for, or against that proposal. See, he was thinking favorably toward giving the colored people the priesthood.

Then we had a meeting where we meet every week in the temple, and we discussed it as a group together, and then we prayed about it in our prayer circle, and then we held another prayer circle after the close of that meeting, and he (President Kimball) lead in the prayer; praying that the Lord would give us the inspiration that we needed to do the thing that would be pleasing to Him and for the blessing of His children. And then the next Thursday – we meet every Thursday – the Presidency came with this little document written out to make the announcement – to see how we’d feel about it – and present it in written form. Well, some of the members of the Twelve suggested a few changes in the announcement, and then in our meeting there we all voted in favor of it – the Twelve and the Presidency. One member of the Twelve, Mark Petersen, was down in South America, but Brother Benson, our President, had arranged to know where he could be reached by phone, and right while we were in that meeting in the temple, Brother Kimball talked with Brother Petersen, and read him this article, and he (Petersen) approved of it.

WALTERS: Now when President Kimball read this little announcement or paper, was that the same thing that was released to the press?

RICHARDS: Yeah.

WALTERS: There wasn’t a special document as a “revelation”, that he had and wrote down?

RICHARDS: We discussed it in our meeting. What else should we say besides that announcement? And we decided that was sufficient; that no more needed to be said.

The entire interview can be found here


If you read the church's essay, you can see how hard they work to frame the lifting of the ban as a grand revelation from God, but when you actually look at how the ban was lifted, it was nothing more than a signed statement that allowed the church to solve an attendance problem for the Brazil temple.

It's also pretty shocking when you realize that it wasn't the Civil Rights Movement that changed the church's mind, but a desire to increase attendance at a new temple where the population was predominantly of those with dark skin making it impossible to know who was eligible to attend. Of all of the struggles that black members of the church had dealt with since the ban was implemented, it was, as Apostle Richards admitted, the desire that "all those people with Negro blood in them" were able to attend the new temple in Brazil that finally pushed the prophets, seers, and revelators to action.

I don't know what more to say on this one, but any idea that the lifting of the ban was the kind of grand revelation that has been implied, and often taught, is simply not how it happened. More importantly, even with a statement that lifted the ban on members with African blood from attending the temple or receiving exaltation, the church still left all of the scriptures that led to the ban in place.

With regards to revelation, this again shines a light into the process which is much more corporate and much less divinely inspired as Joseph Smith would proclaim as he would create revelations for almost any occasion. In this case the church was feeling the pressure from a society that was unwilling to teach that black skin was a curse of God, and the final tipping point was the problems that their doctrine was creating for the newly opened Brazil temple.

While the apologetic response would be that revelations only come for the questions that are asked, I would again point out that the historical evidence tells us otherwise. The easiest example of this is that Joseph Smith claims an angel with a drawn sword threatened his life if he did not begin marrying and having sex with young followers, yet this angel was perfectly OK letting a very racist doctrine sit for about 140 years.

As I mentioned above, when you use apologetics to rationalize problems with church history, they often reveal other implications that are just as problematic. The angel with a drawn sword story is a problem that is very difficult to reconcile with so many other problems being uncorrected for way too long, until you accept that these revelations are not from God, but from men who lived long enough to be in a position to implement their longstanding worldview into the church’s policies and doctrines.


Changes to the Temple


In the overview on the temple endowment and Masonry I had mentioned that changes have been made to the temple ceremony over the years, and these are changes came after surveys were sent to members about their temple experience.

Just as with all other changes to the church’s doctrines and policies, this is an area where we were originally told the temple ceremony would never be changed because changes in ancient times were for the “convenience of men:”

From David B. Haight at the October 1979 General Conference:

 

“We explained briefly the Apostasy and the Restoration: that there is vast evidence and history of an apostasy from the doctrine taught by Jesus and his Apostles, that the organization of the original Church became corrupted, and sacred ordinances were changed to suit the convenience of men, and that today good people all over the world are confused with contending religions with differing doctrine and methods of worship.” (Joseph Smith the Prophet, October 1979 General Conference, David B. Haight)


Prophet Brigham Young worked to create a “perfected” written version of the temple ceremony, with many drafts to make sure that the ceremony was exactly as God wanted it. On March 21, 1877, Wilford Woodruff recorded the following:


“President Young has been laboring all winter to get up a perfect form of Endowments as far as possible. They having been perfected I read them to the Company today.” (Woodruff, March 21, 1877)


The truth is that the temple has undergone many changes since Prophet Brigham Young declared the ceremony perfected including the removal of the Adam-God doctrine, removing the Masonic penalties where members would animate their own gruesome deaths, and removing some of the sexism in the church.

While apologists would contend that these changes were the result of ongoing revelations, the truth is that the Adam-God doctrine was claimed to be received directly from God by Prophet Brigham Young. Are we to believe that God told one prophet that Adam is “our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do,” (Brigham Young, General Conference April 9, 1852) and then told future prophets ‘lol just kidding?’

Of course I’m being snarky here, but it really explains how revelation works in the church. Brigham Young believed that those were the teachings of Joseph Smith and were revelation from God, and every prophet after him dropped this doctrine and current day leaders try to pretend it was never a part of the temple ceremony even as remnants of this teaching remain.

The reality is that the changes to the temple have been explicitly to appease the “convenience of men.” As I covered in the overview on the temple ceremony, the penalties were removed because people realized how barbaric they are and did not like miming their own suicide for talking about the temple, and the removal of just some of the sexism in 2019 was done because women did not like that men gave themselves to God while the women were giving themselves to their husband – a direct remnant of polygamy’s influence on the temple ceremony.

We are constantly taught in the church that God is the same yesterday, the same today, and the same tomorrow, yet we are also constantly given revelations that reverse previous revelations from God, change “perfected” temple ceremonies, and are even sometimes at odds with the scriptures.

Again, I realize that apologists always contend that this is what ongoing revelation looks like, but when you can see the sources of the changes it really undercuts the idea that these ideas are given to these men by God. Are we to believe that God needs surveys and focus groups to make changes to a temple ceremony that was claimed to be perfected 170 years ago?

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Russell M. Nelson and the Name “Mormon”


After Russell M. Nelson became the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his first major action was to warn the church against using the name “Mormon” to describe the church. Many members felt that this was a true revelation from God, because Nelson said that the Lord “impressed upon [his] mind the importance of the name He decreed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (President Nelson Discusses Correcting the Name of the Church)

Here's the problem that most members are not aware of: Nelson was pushing this line of thought for 28 years before he was sustained as the prophet of the church. In April 1990, Nelson gave a talk appropriate called “Thus Shall My Church Be Called," where Nelson maps out the exact same arguments he made in 2018 as a prophet.

There are a lot of elements in Nelson's 1990 talk that are of interest to his claimed 2018 revelation, but for the sake of this overview I just want to point that this talk clearly defines the exact same arguments being made now by Nelson which you can read at the link above. Furthermore, in October 1990 (just six months and one General Conference later) Gordon B. Hinckley, who would be prophet five years later, gave a talk that was almost a direct smackdown of Nelson which was titled "Mormon Should Mean “More Good."

In this talk, Hinckley discusses how they will likely never get the world to call the church by its official name, but that the nickname of Mormon is not a bad one to have:


"I suppose that regardless of our efforts, we may never convert the world to general use of the full and correct name of the Church. Because of the shortness of the word Mormon and the ease with which it is spoken and written, they will continue to call us the Mormons, the Mormon church, and so forth.

They could do worse. More than fifty years ago, when I was a missionary in England, I said to one of my associates, “How can we get people, including our own members, to speak of the Church by its proper name?”

He replied, “You can’t. The word Mormon is too deeply ingrained and too easy to say.” He went on, “I’ve quit trying. While I’m thankful for the privilege of being a follower of Jesus Christ and a member of the Church which bears His name, I am not ashamed of the nickname Mormon.”

“Look,” he went on to say, “if there is any name that is totally honorable in its derivation, it is the name Mormon. And so, when someone asks me about it and what it means, I quietly say—‘Mormon means more good.’” (The Prophet Joseph Smith first said this in 1843; see Times and Seasons, 4:194; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 299–300.)

His statement intrigued me—Mormon means “more good.” I knew, of course, that “more good” was not a derivative of the word Mormon. I had studied both Latin and Greek, and I knew that English is derived in some measure from those two languages and that the words more good are not a cognate of the word Mormon. But his was a positive attitude based on an interesting perception. And, as we all know, our lives are guided in large measure by our perceptions. Ever since, when I have seen the word Mormon used in the media to describe us—in a newspaper or a magazine or book or whatever—there flashes into my mind his statement, which has become my motto: Mormon means “more good.”" (1990 General Conference)


The truth of the matter is that even in 1990, it was more than apparent the Russell M. Nelson was the only one who felt this change was necessary and vital. He was the only one who felt that it was revelation from God to make this change, and it begs the question of why God felt it was so important to tell him, but not the ones in charge of the church that could have made the change 28 years earlier.

Flash forward twenty years, when the "I'm a Mormon" campaign was launched as seen in this Mormon Newsroom release. The following paragraph is from the Mormon Newsroom page:

 

"The Church's national media campaign called “I’m a Mormon” (launched in 2010) included television spots, billboards, and ads on buses and on the Internet. The ads give a glimpse into the lives of Latter-day Saints from all over the world and refer people to the mormon.org website, where they can read the profiles of tens of thousands of Mormons, chat live with representatives who will answer questions about the faith and watch dozens of videos about members of the Church."


Again, if God was so offended by the nickname of Mormon as Nelson has proclaimed, why in the world would He allow the church to run a campaign such as the "I'm a Mormon" one, where it was broadcast through TV, internet ads, on billboards, and on buses. We are told constantly that church leaders pray about every major decision, and this would be no exception as tithing dollars were spent to help boost the image of the church. If God felt this was an error that had "crept" in over time, clearly the leaders would have received a response to not move forward with this campaign.

But it doesn't end there. In 2014 the church released the movie "Meet the Mormons," which followed six members of the church so that the public could better understand what it was like to be Mormon. Again, sacred church dollars were spent and leaders implored church members to see the movie in the opening weekend to help boost the ticket sales in the hopes it would generate buzz for non-members to see it.

Elder David A. Bednar encouraged members to flood social media with the #MeetTheMormons hashtag, and members were asked to post about the movie to friends and family to increase awareness. The movie sold just over $1.2 million in tickets on the first Friday and Saturday, followed by just $64,956 on the first Sunday, showing the power of asking members to see the movie, but the inability to reach those beyond the church.

Again, the question is raised as to why Thomas S. Monson undertook these two massive campaigns to promote the Mormon name when God felt it was so offensive as to be called a “victory for Satan.” These are not small undertakings, and yet the church leadership felt they were both vital to the work of growing the church and spreading the Book of Mormon.

One of the first priorities of Russell Nelson upon becoming prophet was to revisit this issue that he started 28 years earlier. It truly begs the question as to what revelation is when prophets are receiving completely different ideas at the same time. As a member of the church I was told that the prophet of the church had the equivalent of a "direct line to God," where important questions could be answered to guide us throughout difficult times.

But what we have begun to see is that prophets are just like you and me, and our personal interests are what influence the choices we make. Clearly Nelson believed that the name was an important issue as he brought it up 28 years ago in the same fashion that he has brought it up now. The only difference is that as president of the church, he has the authority to make this is a policy as opposed to just a powerful suggestion.

Nelson's current wife, Wendy Nelson, put it best when she described what revelation is in the church. Here is Wendy talking about her husband after becoming the prophet of the church:


“It is as though he's been unleashed. He's free to finally do what he came to earth to do. … And also, he's free to follow through with things he's been concerned about but could never do. Now that he's president of [the Church], he can do those things.”  (Latter-day Saint Prophet, Wife and Apostle Share Insights of Global Ministry)


I cannot tell you how important Wendy Nelson’s quote is, because she is the current wife of Nelson and knows his thought process better than anyone else. In other words, Wendy is stating the obvious: Russell Nelson is now able to make the changes he always wanted to make because he lived long enough to be the prophet. It doesn't matter anymore than both Hinckley and Monson rebuffed his desired change - now that he was prophet he could implement those ideas under the premise of revelation. As Wendy herself said best, now that Nelson had the authority, he was "unleashed" to do the things he was powerless to do before and he immediately began to do so under the premise of revelation.

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The Church’s November 2015 Policy on the LGBT Community


Beyond Russell M. Nelson’s ‘name change’ revelation, the second biggest move of his time as prophet was to reverse the November 2015 policy change regarding LGBT members of the church.

This is a perfect example of how social pressure influences the church’s policy and doctrinal decisions. In this church we are constantly taught that policy and doctrine are two separate things, but even President Dallin H. Oaks is aware that there really is no separating the two. From Oaks:


“I don’t know that it’s possible to distinguish between policy and doctrine in a church that believes in continuing revelation and sustains its leader as a prophet." (AP Interview)


The point being that the November 2015 was considered revelation from God by none other than Russell M. Nelson, who at the time was behind Thomas Monson. From Russell M. Nelson in 2016, responding to the backlash from the November 2015 LGBT policy of exclusion:


“This prophetic process was followed in 2012 with the change in minimum age for missionaries and again with the recent additions to the Church’s handbook, consequent to the legalization of same-sex marriage in some countries. Filled with compassion for all, and especially for the children, we wrestled at length to understand the Lord’s will in this matter. Ever mindful of God’s plan of salvation and of His hope for eternal life for each of His children, we considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise. We met repeatedly in the temple in fasting and prayer and sought further direction and inspiration. And then, when the Lord inspired His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, to declare the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord, each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation. It was our privilege as Apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson. Revelation from the Lord to His servants is a sacred process, and so is your privilege of receiving personal revelation.” (Becoming True Millennials, Russell M. Nelson, January 10, 2016)


Now compare that quote to Nelson’s declaration in 2019 that the removal of the November 2015 revelation just 3.5 years later was also done via revelation:


“These policy changes come after an extended period of counseling with our brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and after fervent, united prayer to understand the will of the Lord on these matters.” (First Presidency Shares Messages from General Conference Leadership Session, 4 April 2019)


I’m not sure of a better way to show that revelation in the church is led by motivated reasoning – and not the actual direction of God - than this. Russell Nelson outlined the 2015 revelation to the point where he proclaimed that they all felt a “spiritual confirmation” of its truthfulness, yet it had to be repealed just 3.5 years later after it caused tremendous harm to members and their families.

This also really explains why spiritual confirmations are not a reliable source of truth. Are we to believe that God commanded the November 2015 policy only to remove it just 3.5 years later?  This is eerily similar to John Taylor’s 1886 revelation that God revealed about the “new and everlasting covenant” (at the time to be considered plural marriage): “how can I revoke an everlasting covenant, for I the Lord am everlasting and my everlasting covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever.”

Plural marriage would be revoked just four years later – almost the same time-frame between Nelson claiming a revelation in 2015 to exclude LGBT children and their families and the 2019 reversal via another revelation.

It also shows why the story of the ‘lost 116 pages’ in the Book of Mormon is just not a believable one. As I covered in the ‘lost 116 pages’ overview, after Martin Harris lost the original manuscript, Joseph Smith needed to not just find a way to replace the text, but to create a story that explained why it would differ from the text that was lost since Joseph Smith knew that he could not replicate it.

According to the church in their 2021 Come Follow Me manual, “more than 2,400 years in advance, the Lord prepared to compensate for the lost pages of the Book of Mormon (see 1 Nephi 9).” (Come Follow Me)

In other words, God reveals to Joseph Smith that He knew this was going to happen and created a second way to give the necessary material for the Book of Mormon over 2,400 years ago. Even ignoring the problems with this story that I cover in the overview, this is a tremendous claim that shows just how much detail God can foresee and prepare for.

Now contrast that to the November 2015 policy of exclusion along with John Taylor’s revelation on plural marriage/new and everlasting covenant. We are to believe that God knew that Joseph Smith was going to lose the original manuscript and set a plan into motion 2,400 years earlier, yet this same God was unaware that the November 2015 policy of exclusion would backfire so spectacularly that they would need to remove it just 3.5 years later or that His revelation on plural marriage would be yanked in four years?

Again, this is one of those things that as a believing member we work so hard to rationalize, but when you step outside of the believing mindset you immediately see just how irrational the entire premise of revelation is in the church. Another way to look at it is to ask a simple question:

What makes more sense – that God created another set of plates 2,400 years earlier because He knew that Joseph Smith would lose them yet did not realize he would need to repeal both plural marriage and the November 2015 policy just four years after giving a revelation, or that the prophets are making up the revelations from God to impose their personal worldview and desires on the church and in the process leave their fingerprints all over these revelations?

I realize that’s a leading question, but it is one that needs to be asked. Often times we use Occam’s Razor when evaluating the claims of other religions, products, or services, and yet with the church we constantly suspend reality to make these problems go away. The problem is that when you look at them objectively, it actually makes a lot more sense because we can see the fingerprints of these men along with the historical context in which they created these words from God.


Lack of Discernment


In addition to receiving direct revelation from God, we are also told that the leaders of the church (and anyone with the priesthood) hold the power of discernment which can help guide us to make the right choices as we go through our daily lives. David A. Bednar describes the gift of discernment in the following way:


“The gift of discernment can help us (1) “detect hidden error and evil in others,” (2) “detect hidden errors and evil in ourselves,” (3) “find and bring forth the good that may be concealed in others,” and (4) “find and bring forth the good that may be concealed in us” (“Quick to Observe,” Liahona, Dec. 2006, 19)


The simplest way to put this is to say that the power of discernment is simply non-existent among not just everyday priesthood holders, but in the leaders themselves. I’m going to give two quick and well known examples to illustrate just how easily the prophets of this church can be deceived as anyone else can, and the reality is that we all know this to be the case if we’ve gone through worthiness interviews and can see that the bishops have no way to know who is lying and who is telling the truth.


Kinderhook Plates


I cover this in much more depth in the overview on the Kinderhook Plates, but this example is particularly good because it ends up duping not just Joseph Smith, but church leaders all the way until science finally proved the plates to be a hoax in the 1980s.


In short, William Fugate was part of a hoax where Joseph Smith was presented with the Kinderhook Plates in the hopes that he would translate the plates and prove himself a false prophet. While a complete translation was never done prior to Joseph’s death, he did give a partial translation to William Clayton, one of Joseph’s personal scribes, which was recorded in Clayton’s journal.

Even after Fugate came out and admitted that the Kinderhook Plates were a hoax, church leaders not only continued to say that Joseph Smith translated them, but that the people claiming it was a hoax was the actual hoax.

If you have not already read our overview on the Kinderhook Plates, please do so as it covers this in much more detail with quotes from the church defending the plates as real all the way until science proved them fake once and for all in the 1980s. From the president of the BYU archaeological society’s article in the 1962 Improvement Era:


"A recent discovery of one of the Kinderhook plates which was examined by Joseph Smith, Jun., reaffirms his prophetic calling and reveals the false statements made by one of the finders...

[The find] solved a seventy-four-year-old controversy and put the plates back into the category of 'genuine' which Joseph Smith, Jun., had said they were in the first place.

...What scholars may learn from this ancient record in future years or what may be translated by divine power is an exciting thought to contemplate. This much remains. Joseph Smith, Jun., stands as a true prophet and translator of ancient records by divine means and all the world is invited to investigate the truth which has sprung out of the earth not only of the Kinderhook plates, but of the Book of Mormon as well." (Improvement Era, September 1962)


To make this abundantly clear, here is Apostle Mark E. Peterson just one year before science finally ended the church’s false beliefs once and for all:


Mark E. Peterson, 1979: “There are the Kinderhook plates, too, found in America and now in the possession of the Chicago Historical Society. Controversy has surrounded these plates and their engravings, but most experts agree they are of ancient vintage.” (page 3, Those Gold Plates, Mark E. Peterson)


This alone should let every member know that the gift of discernment is simply not a true power in the church, because the Kinderhook Plates fooled not just Joseph Smith but leaders after him until science provided the discernment in the form of tangible evidence that could no longer be denied (much like DNA and the Book of Mormon). As I said above, this is an important example because it fooled so many people until they were finally left with no choice but to accept the reality of the situation.


The Mark Hofmann Forgeries


As I write this overview, the Netflix documentary series “Murder Among the Mormons” continues as a popular title on Netflix and has been a successful release about the Mark Hofmann forgeries.

I’m not sure that I need to really say much more than the church was again duped by someone who was out to fool them, and they ended up spending quite a lot of money to suppress documents that not only were fake, but in the case of the William McClellin collection, they already owned them but did not realize it because they had hidden the documents away.

If the gift of discernment were a real thing, this is another example where the church could’ve proved its prophetic power by exposing Mark Hofmann, which would have almost certainly saved the two lives that Hofmann took.

I hate to say “it’s as simple as that,” but in this case the spirit of discernment failed so badly that the church ended up looking beyond foolish as they paid Mark Hofmann both directly and indirectly to purchase documents that they knew could be damaging to the church, which only came out as Hoffman began leaking details to other historians to embarrass the church.

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Furthermore, on the day that Mark Hofmann killed two people, he met with Dallin Oaks in the church office building just hours later. During this meeting, Oaks was not able to discern that he had just murdered someone in cold blood. Not only was Hoffman defrauding the church without any of these prophets, seers, and revelators figuring it out, but he murdered innocent people and these leaders still could not figure out that Hoffman was doing some horrible things, because they were more focused on protecting the image of the church against these documents that they believed were real.

I feel like I’ve been picking on Dallin Oaks a lot in these overviews, but just look at this quote he gave in the October 2004 General Conference:


The Holy Ghost will protect us against being deceived, but to realize that wonderful blessing we must always do the things necessary to retain that Spirit. We must keep the commandments, pray for guidance, and attend church and partake of the sacrament each Sunday. And we must never do anything to drive away that Spirit. Specifically, we should avoid pornography, alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and always, always avoid violations of the law of chastity. We must never take things into our bodies or do things with our bodies that drive away the Spirit of the Lord and leave us without our spiritual protection against deception.” (Be Not Deceived, October 2004)


This is coming from a prophet, seer, and revelator that was publicly deceived in every way, and one must ask which of Oaks’ requirements that he was not following that allowed for him to be deceived. Was it pornography? Alcohol? Or was he violating the law of chastity? But it gets worse, because every other prophet, seer, and revelator was fooled, so what were all of them doing?

Again, I am being intentionally snarky here because it wasn’t anything that these leaders did that caused God to let them look like fools, but it was the fact that the gift of discernment never existed in the first place. It’s just hard to see it until you’re at a place where you’re willing to assess the record of discernment as you would any other religious leader, church, or organization.

Throughout these overviews I’ve outlined areas where Joseph Smith could have proven himself a prophet such as the Lost 116 Pages and Book of Abraham, but this is an event that truly exposed the leaders of the church for having none of the powers that they want members to believe they have including the gift and power of discernment. In the most public ways the church’s prophets, seers, and revelators have been tested, and they continually fail to show any of the powers that they claim to have.


Watering Down Revelation


When you compare the way that Joseph Smith received revelation with how leader today talk about it, you can see that revelation in the church lives in two completely different universes. John Taylor recorded a revelation in God’s voice, but since then we have had zero revelations in that manner.

In fact, there has not been a single revelation added to the Doctrine and Covenants in over 100 years. Think about that: In a church where we are constantly told that we are living in the last days and that we have a living prophet for the main purpose of guiding us through increasingly tough times, the church has not canonized a single revelation in over 100 years. D&C 138, the last canonized revelation, was recorded in 1918.

This is not a fact that is lost on many members and is certainly noticed by those who have left. Prophet Spencer W. Kimball was seemingly aware of how bland and absent revelation has been since Joseph Smith and made the following statement:


“The great volume of revelation … come[s] to today’s prophets in the less spectacular way—that of deep impressions, but without spectacle or glamour or dramatic events accompanying.

“Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication.” (“To His Servants the Prophets,” Instructor, Aug. 1960, 257.)


Think about what Kimball is conceding here. This church is founded on constant, grand revelation that just happened to die out after Joseph Smith’s death and now has been reduced to “deep impressions” that make clear that these leaders do not see God, are not talking to God, and are not channeling the words of God anymore than they are implementing their own worldviews as Wendy Nelson confirmed just a few years ago.

Joseph Smith would mock the leaders of this church today if he was around. Just take a look at this quote from Joseph Smith about how other churches don’t have the faith to produce revelation and are content with just resting on the Bible:


“But we ask, does it remain for a people who never had faith enough to call down one scrap of revelation from Heaven and for all they have now are indebted to the faith of another people who lived hundreds and thousands of years before them, does it remain for them to say how much God has spoken and how much He has not spoken?” (Joseph Smith, History of The Church, Vol 2, p.18)


This church continues to remain Joseph Smith’s church, with only minor tweaks along the way that may or may not eventually be removed depending on how the ‘minor adjustments’ or ‘policy changes’ are received by the public or future prophets. Just look at how many revelations Joseph Smith not only had canonized, but gave to members constantly whether it was to send them on a mission, marry another woman, or request help with funding his projects.

Today’s leaders know that they can’t speak in the voice of God like Joseph Smith did, just as the example I had in the last overview from when they were originally compiling Joseph Smith’s revelations. So instead of producing revelations they know aren’t coming from God, they merely implement the policies they always wanted to and let the members of the church believe they are revelations by using words such as “impression” and “inspired.”

One final point about how watered down revelation in the church has become is about how completely irrelevant the church’s leaders have been during the COVID pandemic. This has been a once in a century type of illness across the world, and not only did the church neglect to warn members about an upcoming pandemic, but they have had no revelation to offer during it beyond leaning into the church.

Last April I wrote about how slow the church was in responding to the escalating situation, but just to illustrate how behind the curve the one prophet of God was in reacting to this crisis:

The church did not suspend Sunday meetings until the evening of March 12th, did not start pulling any of their missionaries out of troubled countries until after that, and did not close down all temples until March 26th. Keep in mind that the church did not close temples until a member from Utah died from coronavirus and had visited the temple just days earlier. If that is not the very definition of reactive, I do not know what is.

On the other hand, many of what the author cites as "reactive" governments and businesses had already begun making changes before the "proactive" church did. First a quick look at governments:

January 8: First CDC warning on coronavirus
January 21: First US case of coronavirus
January 30: The W.H.O. declares a global emergency
January 31: The USA restricts travel to and from China
February 24: Congress begins the first aid package for coronavirus
February 29: The USA announces further travel restrictions
March 4: California declares state of emergency
March 11: The USA blocks most flights from Europe
March 11: Washington, California block any large gatherings
March 11: Chicago, other cities cancel St Patrick's Day events
March 12: New York, Illinois, blocks any large gatherings

Now let's take a quick look at other big cancellations prior to the church:

March 6: SXSW in Austin canceled
March 6: Seattle Comic Com canceled
March 9: Pearl Jam postponed entire USA tour
March 11: NBA suspends its season after Utah Jazz player tests positive
March 12: MLB suspends all operations
March 12: NCAA tournament canceled
March 12: NHL suspends its season

Beyond being behind the curve in reacting to the unfolding pandemic, the church has had nothing to offer beyond generic clichés about finding comfort in the scriptures that we would hear at any other General Conference. There were no revelations from God, no prophecies, and the church was left having to retrofit revelations to Nelson’s earlier comments that even he admitted were not meant in that way.

Just look at Russell Nelson’s two worldwide fasts that were intended to use the priesthood power and prayer to end the spread of COVID. On March 11th, the church called for a fast to petition God to provide relief to Italy during the initial COVID outbreak. There were 12,462 cases and 1,016 deaths on the day of the day, and that number ballooned to 139,422 cases and 17,669 deaths less than a month later.

On March 29th, Mormon prophet Russell M. Nelson called for a fast to petition God to help relieve the coronavirus and its impacts. This fast did nothing to stem the tide, so Nelson called for another fast on April 10th, which also failed to do anything to stop the spread of COVID as we all can see today.

I am not trying to pile on here, but to point out that the church lacks not just the power of revelation and discernment, but the power of the priesthood is completely absent when compared to the results of literally any other method of healing, meditation, etc. As an investigator and convert I was given the story that the miracles of Joseph Smith’s times are still with us today, but the reality is that Joseph Smith’s stories don’t actually hold up to the evidence and leaders today are unable to replicate the magic because they know it’s not actually there, so instead we get worldwide fasts where members can donate fast offerings to the church that failed not just to stop COVID, but the Australian wildfires in early 2020 as well (the fast for the Australian fires was held on January 5th, 2020).

It might seem offensive as a believer, but again if you take the quote from Prophet Kimball along with the quote from Wendy Nelson, it becomes quite clear that the prophets in the church are merely implementing their own ideas into the church without the direct aid of God. This explains why we are often told that the mistakes of the prophets are due to the prophets “acting -as men,” because they were merely doing what they personally thought was right, but in the voice and name of God. The only caveat is that prophets are never to be said to have “acted like a man” until they have passed on and a new prophet is in charge that is not allowed to be criticized until they’re gone. As Dallin Oaks famously said, “It’s wrong to criticize leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true.” (PBS Documentary, the Mormons, 2007)


Conclusion


This is now the third overview on revelation in the church, and I hope that breaking it up in this manner has helped to explain the history and use of revelation in the church in a clear and detailed way. The reality is that just as we can show the way prophecy and revelation is backdated into the Book of Mormon, the fingerprints of the authors of these revelations are all over the ideas and words that they project in the voice of God, which requires us to take a step back and look at the patterns in an objective way.

There have been many self-proclaimed prophets of God since Joseph Smith, and they all suffer from the same problem which is that no one can actually predict the future. Whether it’s Joseph Smith, Russell Nelson, Warren Jeffs, or David Koresh, no one has been able to predict specific events in the future and that’s why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has continually watered down their revelations to the point that members are so hungry for revelations that they declare the words, actions, and policy adjustments of those they sustain as prophets as revelations from God.

While these overviews focus almost entirely on Joseph Smith’s time in founding the church, I hope this one helped to illustrate why the leaders after Joseph Smith suffered from the same inability to discern truth as Joseph did. The reality is that these leaders are not just constantly wrong about the world, but they lack any ability to discern truth from those who are looking to deceive the self-proclaimed prophets, seers, and revelators of God.

It’s not just that Joseph Smith believed he was translating an ancient scroll of Abraham that ended up being a common funerary scroll or that the church believed that Joseph Smith translated the Kinderhook Plates which was a man made hoax, but that current leaders defended the Kinderhook Plates along with falling for Mark Hoffman’s forgeries in the most embarrassing of ways.

Sometimes we get a glimpse into the inner workings of the leaders of the church that are just too honest to ignore, and I want to repeat the quote from Wendy Nelson that explains exactly how Russell M. Nelson operates as a prophet of God one final time:

“It is as though he's been unleashed. He's free to finally do what he came to earth to do. … And also, he's free to follow through with things he's been concerned about but could never do. Now that he's president of [the Church], he can do those things.”  (Latter-day Saint Prophet, Wife and Apostle Share Insights of Global Ministry)

The truth is that these men all have their own ideas on how the church is to be run, and they will implement those ideas if they live long enough to claim the title of prophet. Brigham Young implemented the ideas of Adam-God and blood atonement, John Taylor created a revelation that affirmed plural marriage being an everlasting commandment, and Russell M. Nelson finished his 28 year mission to stop using “Mormon” after being directly rejected by the two prophets in his way.

While believing members might think I am making too much of Wendy Nelson’s quote about how revelation works with her husband, Joseph Smith also outlined how revelation worked for him in his ‘Happiness Letter’ to Nancy Rigdon that I covered in the overview on polygamy:


“This is the principle on which the government of Heaven is conducted, by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.”


In almost every instance throughout the history of not just this church but any church with a claimed prophet of God, we can see that the revelations received by God will benefit the person who claims to be receiving them. Joseph Smith here is saying that whatever God requires is right, which means that whatever Joseph Smith claims that God wants is right. In this case, what Joseph Smith claimed God wanted was for young Nancy Rigdon to marry and have sex with Joseph Smith.

I know that apologists will read this and think I am being too hard on Joseph Smith and other prophets of Mormonism, but the reality is that Joseph Smith used revelation to get members to do difficult things that they would not otherwise have done, and current prophets have used just the slightest hint of revelation to get members to accept the changes they have made whether it was lifting the priesthood ban on members with African lineage, stopping the use of “Mormon” just a few years after spending millions promoting “Mormon,” or reversing the November 2015 policy of exclusion just 3.5 years after implementing it.

This is always a tricky topic to discuss because we all have lived experiences with our feelings on the church, but as I tried to explain above we can show example after example where the leaders of the church get their revelations wrong and their ability to discern truth from fraud is no better in the church than out of it. Often time we look so hard for bullseyes that we ignore all of the misses and retrofit the hits, and it really requires us to step back before we can see just how inaccurate and rare revelations from the church have been.

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As I mentioned in the first overview on revelation, sometimes we look so hard for revelations that we reinterpret the words of the leaders to make them fit. This is best illustrated currently with the COVID pandemic, where members worked so hard to make the words of Russell M. Nelson a revelation of the upcoming pandemic, when you can see that no such revelation was ever given when you take his words in context.

The same can be said for so many aspects of the church, where we constantly look to make errors into bullseyes by changing the target through apologetics and logical fallacies. There are now 34 different overviews that go through the history of this church, and at some point I believe it becomes impossible to ignore the very simple fact that you can prove that the church is not true by looking at many different fields of studies, and the revelations from leaders suffer from many of the same problems that the Book of Mormon does.

 

In the fourth and final overview on revelation, I want to briefly cover the idea of personal revelation in the church, looking at how personal revelation has been watered down throughout the years along with how the church defines which personal revelations are OK in order to again privilege themselves over the members.

Check us out on Twitter or Facebook as well for future posts and updates, and thank you again for reading!

Next Overview Topic: Revelation, Part 4: Personal Revelations in the Church

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